Ducks at Golden Knights Preview: Vegas battles to keep seed in the Pacific

The Vegas Golden Knights will close the book in 2021 with an afternoon tilt against the Anaheim Ducks today at T-Mobile Arena.

The Knights have just emerged from an impressive offensive explosion, which sparked a 6-3 win over the Kings.

Today’s match will pit the top two teams in the Pacific Division against each other.

The Knights (21-12-0) have a one-point lead over Anaheim (17-9-7); Vegas remains ahead of the Western Conference with one point ahead of St. Louis, although the Blues have a game in hand.

The fact that either of these teams is top of the table is somewhat surprising given the difficult start in Vegas and the overall expectations surrounding the Ducks heading into the season.

But here we are.

The Golden Knights will be forced into today’s battle without their best offensive weapon, as the Knights have been struck down by yet another injury.

The club announced on Thursday that Max Pacioretty was out indefinitely after having successfully undergone wrist surgery. Pacioretty has been ardent, able to break career records with 12 goals and 21 points in 16 games. This is the second long-term injury he has suffered this season after missing 17 games with a broken foot.

It’s a big blow for a team that has been plagued with injury all year, especially with Mark Stone supposed to be healing an ongoing injury.

Alex Pietrangelo and Evgenii Dadonov are expected to return to the roster after missing two games in COVID-19 protocol. Dadonov will likely skate on the front row with Pacioretty and possibly Stone on the shelf.

Robin Lehner also remains on a daily basis.

Nolan Patrick may be able to adapt to today’s game; he’s been out of the lineup since the Oct. 22 Vegas game against Edmonton, limiting him to just four games as the Golden Knight. However, he has been a full participant in the practice and appears to be on the verge of returning.

As for the Ducks, Anaheim could do without stud center Trevor Zegras as well as famous Vegas killer Max Comtois; Additionally, Cam Fowler left the Ducks game on Wednesday and did not return, which makes it questionable for this afternoon.

The young Ducks players have made significant strides this year, helping the Ducks be a competitive team every night as well as a team that can provide John Gibson with much-needed and much-needed goal support.

Ryan Getzlaf has a new season and leads the team in assists (20); until a recent injury, he was one of the NHL’s most prominent players. He developed an excellent chemistry with Troy Terry, who was one of the biggest surprises of the season with 18 goals, tied for fifth in the NHL. His 30 points are also a record for the team.

But regardless of either team’s final lineup, the Knights will be looking to build on their 18-4-0 record against the Ducks.

Today’s game will be the third meeting between these clubs this season; Vegas won with a 5-4 shootout victory in late October, while Anaheim won in a wild 6-5 contest earlier this month.

Both games had high and tight scores, and both exhibited significant fluctuations in momentum.

In the October 29 game, William Carrier’s first goal of the season gave Vegas a 4-1 lead just under six minutes into the third period. However, the Knights exploded that lead, allowing three goals in just 5:11. The Knights won it in a shootout.

The Ducks were the ones with a 4-1 lead in the December 1 battle, as Anaheim struck four times in the second period. Vegas scored two straight shorthanded goals – one with 12 seconds left in the second period and the other just under two minutes into the third period – to bring the score to 4-3.

The teams traded goals, but Anaheim never lagged behind. Two late goals in the final 64 seconds of regulation time determined the outcome of the game, with Anaheim taking the lead.

It was one of only three losses for the Knights in December.

The series of seasons has been divided so far; each team won a game and each box score told a very different story. The first game featured eight goals scored 5-5, while the second was defined by special teams.

In fact, four of the five goals scored in the third period of the December 1 game were power-play or short-handed scorers; the Knights have scored back-to-back shorthanded goals, and following a tied goal from Jamie Drysdale, the other three were scored by a male advantage. The Knights scored twice on the power play, while Anaheim scored in the final power play of the Vegas game for the game’s third shorthanded goal of the game.

Vegas has improved dramatically on the power play lately, but Pacioretty’s absence will be felt. Even when not directly involved, he still posed a threat with his shot, keeping defenders honest.

Plus, at some point, the Knights’ recent power-play success will catch up with them. The results were remarkable, but the numbers don’t necessarily reflect a magically improved power play.

But it shouldn’t be underestimated how well Anaheim has thrived in special teams this season. The Ducks are in the top 5 in both categories, with an 85.9% penalty kill pass rate, good for third in the NHL. This will make the chances of Vegas on the power play even more difficult.

The Knights’ penalty killers will have their work cut out for them, too, as the Ducks have a 25.6 percent efficiency rating on the power play, good for fifth place overall.

Due to recent performances, the Knights climbed to 12th with a 20.7% conversion rate on men’s advantage, while the penalty kill (77.9%) fell to 23rd.

The Knights had very little power play success until December, in which they lit the torch 12 times, a league record.

But the Knights are tied for first in the league with 82 goals scored 5-5, which is the real bread and butter of the team. Anaheim scored 63 goals 5-5; while it’s still good for 11th in the NHL, it’s almost 20 goals short.

No matter how strong the game is, the Knights will need to spice up Anaheim with shots. Gibson returned to the lineup the other night and was in typical Gibson form, stopping 35 of 37 shots. He and Anthony Stolarz have been forced to make at least 34 saves in both games against the Knights this season, so getting pucks at the net will be key for Vegas.

Tonight is the second part of a six-game homestand but marks the last game of the calendar year; Vegas will look to finish strong as the 2021 portion of the season draws to a close.

How to watch

Time: 12h

TV: AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM

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